If you’re worried about Alzheimer’s disease, take heart: There are plenty of ways to boost your brain power.
One important study in this area showed that adults who took up hobbies, even in middle age, were significantly less likely to develop Alzheimer’s later on. The study by Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland found that intellectual activities were especially important.
“You need to exercise your brain just like you exercise your body,” said Pat Potter, who leads the “Maximizing Your Memory” workshops for the Alzheimer’s Association in Monterey, California. “It enables you to cope or manage a lot longer.”
How can you keep sharp for decades to come? Here’s a few suggestions from the experts:
Exercise. Anything from regular walking to yoga to bowling can make a difference, according to the AARP’s Staying Sharp program. Aerobic exercise produces a chemical that protects nerve cells and helps form new capillaries in the brain. Exercise also helps you keep the weight off, important since obesity can trigger Alzheimer’s in some people.
Especially valuable, said Potter, are activities that combine exercise, socializing and memory use, such as ballroom dancing. Having a social life is a source of pleasure as well as providing vital brain stimulation.
Lifelong learning. Taking a cooking class, developing a new hobby, or speaking a foreign language – all these will keep your head in the game. Learning something new decreases the risk of developing memory-related problems, according to a 2007 study at UC Irvine. Not only does learning help, so does teaching. Those who relay information to other people, whether casually or in a classroom setting, are more likely to retain that information themselves.
Viva la difference. Do things in a unique way every so often – use your left hand rather than the right, take a new route to the post office, rearrange your furniture. “You can jog your mind by doing things you normally wouldn’t do, or doing them differently,” said Potter.
Humor. Laughter is not only the best medicine, it also requires certain subtle intellectual skills, such as relating the expected to the unexpected and engaging in wordplay. Telling a joke also requires social intelligence and a sense of timing. Also, by having fun and laughing, your stress levels decrease significantly.
Healthy eating. To enhance memory, feed your brain the right things. A generally healthful, low-fat diet is a start. Experts also say to eat fish with high Omega-3 levels several times a week – salmon or mahi mahi, for instance – vegetables every day, and colorful fruits like blueberries, cranberries and pink grapefruit for a dose of naturally occurring nutrients that improve cognitive function.
General health. Reducing high blood pressure to normal helps slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. In addition, some studies indicate that people with high cholesterol may be more at risk of developing the disease. Keeping an eye on these markers can pay off for mental as well as physical health. “What’s good for your heart is good for your brain,” said Potter.
Active, not passive. “Television watching is not protective and may even be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Robert P. Friedland, an associate professor of neurology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and member of the medical staff at University Hospitals of Cleveland. So do activities that engage your brain – read, talk to friends, do crafts or play games.
Personal interview with Pat Potter